Interview with actor Anthony LemkeJune 30, 2016
With over ten years as a leading actor in the Canadian film and television industry, Anthony Lemke has been a part of many series including The Listener, 19-2 , Lost Girl and can be seen as the character ‘Three/Marcus Boone’ on the hit series Dark Matter, with season two ready to air on Syfy July 1st. Recently, we had the chance to talk with Anthony about the current state of sci-fi on TV, Dark Matter and the reasons why it became a success and his interests away from the acting world, including his work as ambassador for Handicap International.
There is so many good Canadian sci-fi shows on television now, Dark Matter, Killjoys, The Expanse, just to name a few. Does something like that come in cycles or has the overall talent in front of and behind the camera just gotten a lot better over the last few years?
Anthony: I believe it’s a bit of both, actually. I do believe it’s cyclical. You know, the fantasy/werewolf/vampire, they’re pitching that as a series a heck of a lot less than they were and it feels like that period may be coming to an end. Now it’s moving the opposite way, it’s moving back to space, where five years ago, was there even a spaceship show on Syfy? I don’t think so, not real spaceship shows, colonizing, living on another planet type of show and I think that’s a zeitgeist thing, to be honest. Ten years ago we weren’t talking about going to Mars as much, the European Space Agency wasn’t talking about establishing a lunar colony by 2030, that’s not that far from now.
Of course, when it comes to the talent, the Canadian industry thirty or forty years ago was a really, really young industry and I think that last ten years especially, and it’s partly technology to be honest, my iPhone can take pictures that used to be reserved for actual photographers who knew how to take pictures, now my iPhone can take amazing pictures. There’s still an artistic element behind it but in terms of just the quality of the photograph it’s really gotten very good, and the same thing for film and television, we’ve gotten better at our craft in Canada. Actors have gotten better, technicians have gotten better, writers have gotten better, it’s a more porous border now between Canada and the United States in terms of talent than it used to be and American networks have realized that they can pay half price for their television shows and put them on airing right next to their other shows that they pay twice as much for and the audience doesn’t see much of a difference. Not in every case but if it’s well done, they don’t. To somebody living in Louisiana, it’s just NBC, that’s it, it doesn’t make a difference so it hasn’t changed for the massive networks but it’s changed for the smaller networks like Syfy, which is basically a Canadian network, like in terms of where they get their stuff. If you go down the list of their shows, the vast majority of them are shot in Canada so we are exporting sci-fi to the world, it’s pretty funny.
When you initially read the script for the part of ‘Three/Marcus Boone’ on Dark Matter, what attracted you to both the character and the show?
Anthony: Well, if you’ve seen the first episode there’s just a fantastic twist. The mystery of the show is what attracted me first, the notion of who wiped our memories and the idea of getting to play characters that has no past, no back story, no baggage, no nothing because they don’t remember anything. It’s interesting as an actor but it’s also good storytelling, it’s really fun storytelling and then that twist of oh, hold on a second, they’re not the good guys, they’re the bad guys. It’s something that, I won’t say we haven’t seen on TV before but it’s definitely something that’s interesting. It creates a show where your heroes are anti-heroes and it’s not really an anti-hero show, it’s not a show about bad people doing bad things that you’re supposed to like anyways. It’s a show about bad people trying to comprehend why they are bad and whether they should continue to be bad and hard it actually is to change, to not be what you were, to actually leave your past behind, which they can’t do in season one and don’t succeed all that much better in season two because you can’t just walk away from everything you have done, even if you don’t remember anymore so I think that’s what drew me to the show. Then of course the character is someone I feel I’m capable of doing a decent job with, a character that comes naturally to me and he’s also a hell of a lot of fun to play so both of those made it pretty obvious that oh boy, I really want this show.
Most of the characters on Dark Matter are serious individuals yet have their own cutting edge sort of humor to them. As an actor, is it hard to balance both of these elements without going too far one way or the other?
Anthony: Yes, is the short answer to that. Yeah, and I will frequently rely on the team around me and I imagine most actors are the same, where I’ll say to the director, and we have a different director almost every episode, that’s the way it works in television, and most of the time the initial discussion with them will be listen, I’m going to do a lot of stuff, it’s sort of the way I find the humor, by trying lots of things and nine of ten of them you’re not going to use but one of them you will and please don’t hesitate to tell me when it’s not working, because as an actor it’s not my job to know whether it’s working, you’re supposed to be in the moment, playing the moment and sometimes you can really tell that it’s not working but when you’re really in it and you’re doing it and it’s funny, you don’t know how it’s coming across, you don’t know how it’s communicating and that’s the director’s job, the editors job, the producers job, the writer’s job, they’re job is to say all right. My job is to give them all the pieces of the puzzle and they make the story from there and it is fun and challenging and yeah, hard.
Now I’ve seen the Dark Matter Q & A panels at Fan Expo and Toronto Comic Con and you guys seem to have a really good time together. Was that chemistry between the actors something that came naturally or was it something you all had to work on?
Anthony: I think it’s a little bit of both. I do believe there is good chemistry, we all like each other, we all respect each other and that’s huge. We don’t all hang out as buddies, we have our own lives we come in and out of. There are folks who hang out more together and there are those who hang out less. I mean, I live in Prince Edward County so the second I get a chance to go home I go home, I don’t do a lot of socializing outside with the cast and crew which I miss, if I lived in town I would, they’re great folks and sometimes I’ll stay out and play ping pong or whatever, drive home late at night or stay and drive home in the morning but I mean I’m with these folks, fourteen hours a day, five days a week and that’s a lot more then I’m with my family so I really try to get back to my family as much as I can. But it’s true that there is a good chemistry and the panels are a good example of that. What’s interesting about the panels is that sometimes, because everybody knows why you are there, you have the freedom to almost be a blend of who you are as a person but also who your character is, so you can answer a question as your character or you can answer it as you That playfulness, that ability to sort of flip in and out of character at these panels is a lot of fun and I think that’s what makes panels watchable and fun, as opposed to dry talking about stories on set and you know, a lot of folks kind of do it in the panels, they bring themselves but also bring they’re characters into the panels, so it’s a lot of fun.
Dark Matter has also seemed to build up a solid core of dedicated fans very quickly. What do you think it is that has not only grabbed the fans interest but managed to hold onto it as well?
Anthony: I think there is a couple of things that have gotten the fans interested quickly. I think its pedigree, you know sci-fi is a loyal world, it’s its own world. Not to say that people don’t watch other things but if you know sci-fi, you know sci-fi, and that’s not the same for cop shows. If you know one cop show you may not know all twelve and you may not know who the creator is. That’s not the case for sci-fi. Many sci-fi fans know a lot about the creators, the actors, the story line, the universe so when shows end and the key contributors move on to other projects I think there’s a pedigree that come with it, whether it’s someone like Zoe, bringing her Lost Girl fans or obviously Joe and Paul, bringing ten years of Stargate and spinoffs and all that stuff so I think that’s one thing, there was a built in good will that we had.
The second thing is, and this is bigger because you can have all the good will in the world but if the execution is not there then no one watches, I think the audience has responded to the family that we are. I think that’s important in a show that’s not procedural, in a show that’s serialized, where the whole point is to follow what happens to these characters. It’s not so much crime of the week or story of the week although there is that but the reason people tune in is they identify with the characters, they like to like, they like to hate, they like to have opinions on the characters and they want to tune in and see what those characters are doing next week and how they are going to get out of the predicaments they are in, it’s the wonder of storytelling. You know, that’s half us but half the fans. The last chunk in any piece of creation is the delivery to the fans and it’s not the real world, it’s fantasy, fans have to go there with us so it’s all of those elements that have created this, what I think is really quite magical and special situation that is Dark Matter. It kind of snuck in under the radar and now ended up being a hit within the sci-fi world and kind of around the world, too.
There are a lot of things that have to happen for a television show to become a hit and stand out from the competition. What do you think is the biggest reason behind the success of Dark Matter?
Anthony: I think it really does rest on Joe and Paul’s shoulders (creators Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie) as does the credit. I mean, we do what we do, as do the editors and directors, but it starts with Joe and Paul and it really starts with the Stargate universe, I’ll be honest with you. This is a story that, I think they wanted to tell that story longer than they got to, and having spoken to Joe about it, one of the elements he feels he would have done differently is he would have brought the levity in Dark Matter to the Stargate universe. So really the credits with him, he’s known from the very beginning, exactly the type of show he wanted to create, the specific vibe, where the humor comes from, how much humor, how much character. You’ll notice there’s almost no sex in our show, nobody dresses provocatively in any real kind of way, he didn’t want to rely on any of that stuff, he wanted to tell a story that was about the characters, essentially this family of people that have to learn to work together and trust each other.
So what projects do you have coming up and what do you do when you are not filming Dark Matter?
I do two things in my down time. One of the things I do is I’m an ambassador for Handicap International so we’re planning a trip to Laos in September. Laos is a story I had never heard of, I didn’t realize Laos was sort of centrally involved in the whole Vietnam conflict called the secret war, and it is the most polluted country in the world in terms of unexploded ordnance. I think there is eighty million unexploded bombs in that country with a population of seven million people. More bombs were dropped on that country by America than Germany and Japan in the Second World War, about every eight minutes for nine years that country was being bombed and then when the war was over everyone went home but they didn’t, those bombs stayed there and continued to create disabled folks but also continue to kill people today so Handicap International has been very involved with Laos, they’re in about sixty countries in the world but that’s one of the places I thought would be interesting to bring some awareness to because they celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the first bomb dropping in Laos in 2014, so we’re over fifty years from where it started and it’s still claiming lives today and that’s a story that shocked me and I think is worth telling. The other thing is, in Prince Edward County where I live my brother, my best buddy, we’re doing some property development there which is a lot of fun. I love, love Prince Edward County and the little town in Wellington where I live is very close to my heart, it’s a special, beautiful, magical place and we’d love to try to continue that growth into the future.
I want to thank Anthony for taking the time to talk with us.